Montana House advances competing bills on pot regulations
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — The Montana House on Tuesday advanced three competing Republican plans for regulating recreational marijuana sales after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure last year to legalize it.
The ballot measure allows for marijuana sales to begin next January and sought to divert a significant portion of that tax revenue toward conservation efforts. But bills advanced in the Republican-controlled House did not follow that plan. Democratic lawmakers criticized the legislation and said they wanted the Legislature to adhere to voters’ wishes.
Republican legislative leaders urged their caucus members to vote for all three proposals to give the Senate more options as lawmakers consider how to tax recreational marijuana sales and what to do with the new revenue. House Speaker Wylie Galt urged lawmakers not to look at the proposals as final products.
The House will vote on all three measures for a third time this week before they are considered by the Senate.
The most comprehensive bill would tax marijuana at 20%, fund a substance abuse prevention program backed by Gov. Greg Gianforte and divert the majority of the remaining revenue to the state’s general fund.
The House considered 30 different amendments to Rep. Mike Hopkins’ bill before advancing it 59-41, with several hardline Republicans joining most Democrats in voting against it.
A competing measure sponsored by Rep. Derek Skees would tax recreational marijuana at 15%, use two-thirds of the tax revenue to cover public employee pensions and the rest for a trust fund used to address the negative effects of marijuana use.
Skees said his bill would ensure that government does not grow as a result of the recreational marijuana program. Reducing the tax rate on sales would ensure that consumers do not turn to the black market, he added.
Under a third bill from Rep. Brad Tschida, the tax rate would be 20%, but it would be charged on the wholesale price instead of the retail price of marijuana sales. Tschida said that is equivalent to half of the 20% tax on retail prices, further reducing expected revenue from the program, which the bill would direct to the state general fund.
“We don’t know what was in the minds of people when they voted,” Tschida said. “We’re going to use the funds the way they best fit the needs of the program.”
Both bills advanced in 67-33 votes along party lines.
Samuels is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.